The cultural significance of Western fertility trends in the 1980s

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Citation: Simons, J. (1999) The cultural significance of Western fertility trends in the 1980s.
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): The cultural significance of Western fertility trends in the 1980s
Tagged: uw-madison (RSS), wisconsin (RSS), sociology (RSS), demography (RSS), prelim (RSS), qual (RSS), WisconsinDemographyPrelimAugust2009 (RSS)


The author adopts a scheme in which values vary in a horizontal scale from absolutism to relativism and in the vertical scale from holism to individualism. Absolutists believe that behavior in the family is subject to societal values. For relativists, the appropriateness of behavior is determined by circumstances. For holists, is important to conform to perceived expectations of the community and individualists stress the rights and needs of the individual. He then presents a good review of Lesthaeghe work. Lesthaeghe using the same data concludes that secularization, identified, as "individuation", is an important factor to explain fertility decline in Europe. Simons then contest why fertility decline ceased in the 1980s and even rise in some countries, given the progress of ideas linked to post-materialism and individualism and their apparent negative influence on attitudes to procreation. Lesthaeghe answers by saying that the disappearance of restrictions on sexuality had led to more extramarital births and that the progress of pragmatism had enabled and encouraged people to have children at the age and circumstances that suited them. However, Simons seems to disagree that individualism is the unique dimension of pragmatism. He shows that ideas about sexual forms of partnership could vary independently of ideas about parenthood, and that although this represents a shift towards pragmatism, fundamentalist ideas about childbearing remained influential in most countries. Therefore, the absolutism-relativism dimension also influences pragmatism. Finally, he shows evidence from EVSSG (EUROPEAN VALUE SYSTEMS STUDY GROUP) indicating increases in the restrictiveness of attitudes of sexual relations and the growth in attachment to traditional as well as an increase in individualism.